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Between 1939 and 1941, New York City photographed every house and building in the five boroughs. Along with that, the city has long held on to its citizens paper trailsbirth and death records, marriage licenses, deeds and other documents. Its the paper that people often forget aboutand that can prove quite interesting to history buffs. And its available to New Yorkerssome of it electronicallyfrom the New York City Department of Records and Information Services. Department Commissioner Brian D. Andersson spoke about the wealth of urban history available at the last meeting of the Dyker Heights Civic Association, held at St. Phillips Church located on 11th Avenue and 80th Street. Anderssons department gathers records once the city is finished with them and houses a treasure chest of old newspapers, clippings, biographies, government reports, budgets, film archives, architectural plans and more. Many old pictures are available for sale on the departments web site and it is in the process of digitizing its troves. There is also a preservation department that works to restore historical documentsfor example, they have the deed from when the Dutch bought Canarsie. The municipal records are housed in the City Hall Library, 31 Chambers Street, which is open to the public. It was established in 1913 and now contains approximately 250,000 items. The building survey photographs were part of the citys attempt to establish tax rates at the timebut now represent a window into another world. Similar photographs from the 1980s were recently pulled out from a dusty basement, Andersson noted, and are now being processed. The collections are particularly fascinating to people who want to do research into their genealogy, Andersson noted. He is a genealogist himself. When Andersson marched alongside actor Paul Sorvino in the Columbus Day Parade, he told the Dyker Heights audience, he wanted to wow him. So he fished out the passenger list from the boat on which Sorvinos father arrived in this country as a small child. And Sorvino cried. Everybodys left footprints in the sand, Andersson said. And the footprints in the sand are city records. And famous people leave footprints, too. One marriage license in the citys possession has two presidential signatures on itTheodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Along with a certain Eleanor, of course. Its from St. Patricks Day, 1905, when FDR and Eleanor were married in New York City. But if you start researching history, Andersson warned, you may not be able to stop once you find so many neat things. Its the thrill of the hunt, he said. Ive been at it for 30 years and its still thrilling. To find out more or purchase a historical photograph, visit www.nyc.gov/html/records/ or call 311.
©2005 Community Newspaper Group
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